Get Ready for the 2008 Space Elevator Challenge

by Nancy Atkinson on January 18, 2008

Spaceward Foundation
Looking for an exciting challenge, as well as a way to try and create easy and affordable access to space? The 2008 Space Elevator Beam Power Challenge has been announced by The Spaceward Foundation, and competitors have the chance at a $2 million top prize. And don’t think the picture included here is complete science fiction. Meteor Crater in Arizona is one of the sites being considered for the competition, which consists of climbing a vertically suspended tether using power beaming technology.

The Beam Power Challenge event is tentatively set for September 8, 2008. The objectives for the 2008 competition are climbing a tether 1 kilometer in height, at 5 meters per second minimum speed, for a prize level of $2M.

An intermediate prize level of $900k will be given for a speed of 2 m/s. Additionally, teams that can reach an altitude of 1 km at between 1 and 2 m/s will be awarded a prize of up to $50k.

The 1 km climb will be supported by a unique pyramid-anchored balloon system, providing the teams with a stable tether to climb on.

“In broad strokes, the goal of the Space Elevator games is to bring the Space Elevator closer to reality,� Marc Boucher of the Spaceward Foundation writes on their website. “The goal of the power beaming challenge is to promote power beaming technology. We think that the time is ripe now to move the competition to the next level, addressing real-world power beaming scenarios where the minimum requirements for such systems start at the km range and kWatt power levels.�

This is the fourth year of the Space Elevator Games, which started in 2005. In 2007 Team USST from the University of Saskatchewan was the best performer in the competition, moving their laser-powered 25 kg climber [55 lb] at an average speed of 1.8 m/s [6 ft/sec] over a 94 m run. This corresponds to over 400 Watts of mechanical power maintained for almost a minute. They did this 4 times within 40 minutes. 20 other teams were part of the competition.

This year’s challenge, therefore, is a huge leap from 2007. 1 kilometer is high: it’s the altitude a jetliner is at when the cabin crew asks you to put your laptop away.

“The 1 km challenge really takes us to the next level” says Ben Shelef, CEO of the Spaceward Foundation. “The point of power beaming is that it can work over any distance, and this challenge will illustrate the promise of this technology.”

The prize money is provided by NASA’s Centennial Challenges program. NASA has pledged a total of $4,000,000 starting in 2005 through 2010. The Spaceward Foundation has been distributing the prize money in slowly increasing increments, as the difficulty level of the challenges has been ratcheting up.

The ultimate goal for a space elevator system is to have the climbers ascend a tether 100,000 km long, strung between an anchor on Earth and a counterweight in space. Connecting Earth and space in this way, the space elevator will enable inexpensive access to space which, according to the Spaceward Foundation will “completely expand our society into space.�

In this year’s challenge, Spaceward provides the race track, in the form of a vertically-suspended tether, and the competing teams provide Space Elevator prototypes, featuring climbers that have to scale the tether using only power that is transferred to them from the ground using beamed power.

The climbers net weight is limited to 50 kg [110 lbs], and they must ascend the ribbon at a minimum speed of 2 m/s. [6.6 feet per second] carrying as much payload as possible. A high performance prize will be awarded to teams that can move at 5 m/s. [16.5 fps]

Climbers will be rated according to their speed multiplied by the amount of payload they carried, and divided by their net weight. For example, a 15 kg climber, carrying 10 kg of payload at 2.5 m/s will have a score of 10 X 2.5 / 15 = 1.67

Power is unlimited. It is up to the competitors to build the most power dense machine that they can devise.

In addition to Meteor Crater, other sites being considered include Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the Albuquerque, New Mexico Balloon Festival site, White Sands, New Mexico, Brothers Rocket Site in Oregon, Black Rock, Nevada, and any NASCAR raceway sites that are far from airports.

Today (January 18, 2008) the registration fee is $1180 USD, and the price will increase by $10 each day (so get your registrations in early!) This is your big chance to change how we access space and perhaps write a unique chapter in history.

For more comprehensive specifications on the competition, see the Spaceward Foundation’s website.

Original News Source: Spaceward Foundation Press Release


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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